Confucius Semester Program at Shandong University – by Dale Clayton

During Semester 1 of 2014, I studied Chinese language at Shandong University in Jinan, capital of the Shandong Provence in the People’s Republic of China. This proved to be both a challenging and rewarding experience.

Arriving in November of 2013, I spent several months travelling and experiencing different regions of China. After a brief sojourn in the vibrant non-mainland regions Hong Kong and Macau, my journey of the mainland began in the modern metropolis of Shanghai. Incredible cuisine comprising the finest China has to offer was served in the shadows of dizzyingly tall neon-lit skyscrapers. A walk along the Huangpu River contrasts the historical Puxi side with the ultra-modern Pudong side, exemplifying China’s simultaneous retention of its 5000-year history as well as its headlong flight into the future.

Next was the historic water village of Zhouzhuang, a preserved traditional village showcasing a look at the fascinating provincial life of the pre-Cultural Revolution era.

This visit was followed by a visit to Huaxi, the false Chinese paradise boasting to be China’s richest village, complete with its unnecessary skyscraper in the middle of nowhere. This to me exemplifies the power of the Central Communist Party; its influence being everywhere.

Next was Confucius’ birth and death place Qufu. A historical village showcasing where the great philosopher was born, lived, died and ultimately entombed. An interesting and insightful look at China’s school of thought.

A visit the China’s capital Beijing followed. A culture-lovers paradise showcasing the best of China’s long cultural history, with sites such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and, of course, the Great Wall of China.

The final stop before the semester began, and my personal favourite, was the frozen wonderland of the northern city Harbin. Every winter, the chill and darkness of winter is celebrated with the annual Snow and Ice Festival. Giant sculptures of snow and ice are erected and lit with neon to be admired by art-lovers from the world over.

After a whirlwind few months of travelling the People’s Republic, it was time to settle down in my accommodation at Shandong University. Shandong University is very well known in China as one of its best higher-learning facilities. It caters to international students from over fifty countries. The international student accommodation is conveniently located next to the international studies building, where classes are held. I found the teachers to be very professional and friendly and the classes informative.

However, living in China is not without its challenges. Those who are uncomfortable with crowds, occasional air pollution and specific dietary requirements may find living in China to be difficult. Many Chinese people will treat you differently for being a foreigner, often trying to lead you astray and take your photo. China’s air quality is often not suitable, with some days being too smoggy leading to potential health problems. Finding suitable food options can often be difficult as it is difficult to discern which restaurants are hygienic enough and vegetarian options are practically non-existent.

However, China has many friendly people who will often be happy to help you and be your friend. Living in an international student community gives one opportunities to establish lifelong connections from people of all corners of the globe.

China is a good choice for those wishing to study abroad for those who are interested in seeing what the fascinating country of China has to offer and are not afraid of a challenge. It is a rewarding experience for those who give it their best.

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